Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Marathon, and Beyond

Last weekend, I thought I’d really earned my finisher’s medal at CIM. The 30th annual California International Marathon was held in a rainstorm … a gully-washer of a storm complete with heavy rain and wind. The worst of the storm, which occurred over several days, was on Sunday morning beginning at about 6:00 AM.  The thought of standing out there with a trash bag for shelter, waiting for the race to start, was daunting. The rain was coming down at an angle. I wasn’t sure I would even run it until it was time to hop on the shuttle bus. Then I was committed. (Photos from the Sacramento newspaper.)

It was a well-organized race, with plenty of port-a-potties at the start, many aid stations with great volunteers (a HUGE thank you to everyone who volunteered and cheered for us in miserable conditions), nice shirts and medals and gear bags. And from what I could see, a nice course … rolling hills, a net downhill, finish line at the capitol in Sacramento. But I was so busy determining where to put my feet (to avoid slippery, wet discarded bags, puddles and backed up storm drains) and keeping my head down so as to avoid rain in my face, that I really didn’t pay any attention to the scenery. 

I’d love to run it again, in more pleasant conditions. It rained until I got to mile 22 at the river and then the sun broke through the clouds. A welcome change in the weather. As I said, I thought I’d really earned that pretty medal.
Ha! Six days later is when I REALLY earned a finisher’s medal. 

I’d signed up for the Coyote Ridge Trail 10-miler a few months ago, knowing I’d have run a marathon the weekend before. But CIM was slow and my recovery brief. (I didn’t have to take even one day off running this past week.) So on Wednesday I decided to switch from the 10-miler to the marathon, and didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t sure that I could run a whole marathon, but the course was a 20-mile loop followed by the 7-mile loop so I knew I could quit at 20 miles if I wanted to. (But there was no finisher’s medals for the 20-miler and it sounds so much better to say that “I ran a marathon today” than “I ran 20 miles today”. J. The unknown was the effect of running the hills. The elevation profile was daunting, as was the fact that I’ve not done any trail running in several years. I’m a shuffler on the roads and that’s not something that would do me well on the trails.

The race started at sea level in the parking lot for Muir beach. And within ¼ mile we were climbing. And climbing. And climbing. In the mud.
(The North Face Endurance Challenge was held on this course the weekend of CIM and the Sunday events were cancelled because of the rain and mud. The Saturday event, which was turned into a double loop because of the weather, really chewed up the course.) Once we got to the top of that first hill, we had to go down.
Dirt road section of the course
I wanted to take it slow as I’m not used to running downhill in mud. I stepped aside and let several guys go by as the trail here was single track (wide enough for only one person). They just slid right down in the mud, about 6 feet. No way for me!! I sidestepped , held onto the bushes and gingerly made my way down.
There were 2 or three aid stations and as is the case with ultra/trail events, well-stocked: PB&J sandwiches, boiled potatoes to dip in salt, Oreos, Clif Shot Bloks, oranges, bananas, potato chips, m&ms, graham crackers, pretzels, … a veritable feast! Somewhere around 11 miles I missed a turn and was off course for about .7 miles. Argghhh. Not what I needed. But the views were spectacular.

Golden Gate bridge and highway 1; San Francisco skyline far left

I kept running the downhills and walking the uphills until mile 14 or 15, I think. Then, after a really long climb, my quads were shot. I had no muscle power to lift my legs. I had to start walking. But I was OK with that. At least I was moving. And the course being what it was (a big loop), and the aid stations many miles apart (up to 8), I had no other way to get out of there but by maintaining forward progress. It was a beautiful day, the scenery spectacular and I was still enjoying myself. But as the hills wore on, I was really wearing out. Back at the start/finish area I checked in and was mentally and physically ready to check out. But the 2 volunteers at the aid station talked me into continuing (despite the fact that I’d told them I’d run a marathon the weekend before) … they encouraged me and told me to just set my sights on the aid station four miles out.
After climbing the first hill again (which had dried out a bit), and hitting the mud on the downside, I had my lowest point of the event. My quads (abductors) were just screaming. My mind was telling me “enough”. The finish cutoff clock was ticking. I knew that the worst hill was yet to come (again) after setting out after the last aid station. I wanted out. But there was no way out. After ascending the sixth set of stairs, I had another GU, more water (we were STRONGLY encouraged to carry a minimum of 20 oz.) and pressed on. The downhills were still really tough, but I got through the roughest rough patch. At the aid station, I grabbed a couple Clif Shot Bloks and a few potato chips, some COKE and pressed on. I had 3 miles, and a tough hill, to the finish. At this point, I could handle the uphills pretty well (except stairs). The downhills were still going to be rough. But a 5K I could my head around. So I pressed on and finished with just over an hour before the time cutoff. The finisher’s medal was mine. Hard fought. I thought I’d earned the CIM medal? That race was a birthday party compared to this. I wish I had the opportunity to run trails more often. I certainly would be stronger because of it. And the scenery on the trails is wonderful.
Ended the day with 28.4 miles, a finisher’s medal, and first in my age group (but there were only 2 of us 50-59 year olds registered!). Oh well, I’ll take it.
So, that’ my two-marathons-in-a-week marathon-and-beyond story. And I’m sticking to it.

Go.  Be. Do.


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Anonymous said...

Hello RR,
As I read your story I was thinking of how different it is to run a 10-13 mile run...easy...and then once you get past the half way point, everything changes. I have had that feeling of no more power left to lift my legs and run. Walking worked well for me and your story of the 1 and then another marathon made me proud to be part of the running community. Nice job, You're the best. Rick Bizzoco